The Man of Today

Author: Pope Paul VI

The Man of Today

Pope Paul VI

The following is the central portion of an address delivered by Pope Paul VI on 25 September 1970 to participants in the 21st National Bible Week in Italy.

Our words reflect the Church’s concern. The Church “listens religiously to God’s Word” (Dei Verbum, n. 1) and is its authentic interpreter. It favours every effort aimed at “attaining ever deeper understanding of Holy Scripture, in order to be able to instruct its children with the divine words” (ibid. n. 23). It is concerned to see that doctrine shall be expounded, as the Council said in its Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops, “in harmony with the needs of the times in which we live, that is, in order that it may respond to the difficulties and problems by which men are assailed and troubled” (Christus Dominus, n. 13).

We cannot but have satisfaction in pointing to certain requirements which are emerging from the renewed interest in the hermeneutical process.

1) The conviction that interpretation has not fulfilled its task until it has demonstrated how the meaning of Scripture may be referred to the present salvific moment, that is, until it has brought out the application to the present circumstances of the Church and the world. Without taking anything away from the value of philological, archeological and historical interpretation ol the text — always necessary — we have to lay emphasis on the continuity between exegesis and preaching. The Constitution on Divine Revelation expressed that continuity in these words: “Catholic exegetes and other students of sacred theology, working diligently together and using appropriate means, should devote their energies, under the watchful care of the Magisterium of the Church, to an exploration and exposition of the divine writings. This task should be done in such a way that as many ministers of the divine word as possible shall [be] able effectively to provide the People of God with the nourishment of the Holy Scriptures, thereby to enlighten their minds, strengthen their wills, and set men’s hearts on fire with love of God” (Dei Verbum, n. 23). Let this be addressed particularly to you, who train future priests.

2) Again: in every interpretative process, and with greater reason when it is a matter of God’s Word, the person of the interpreter is not outside of the process itself, but is involved in it, brought into question, with all his being. God’s word is “lively and powerful” (Heb. 4:12) and able to build up and give an inheritance among all the sanctified” (Acts 20:32). If this is so, then, in order to get into serious contact with it and consider it for what it really is: God’s word which works “in those that believe” (cf. Thess. 2:13), it is necessary to enter into the dialogue which it means to conduct in an authoritative fashion with every man. The divine aim of Scripture is to give that wisdom “which leads to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, that the man of God may be perfect, ready for all good works” (2 Tim 3:15-17).

3) Thirdly, we note the emphasis placed on the need to seek a certain connaturality of interests and problems with the argument of the text, in order to be able to open one’s hearing to it. The same God who reveals himself in the Scriptures, the same Spirit who speaks through the mouths of the sacred writers, in the very same who moves our heart to seek him, and causes in us the grace to be ready and willing to listen. These Scriptures came to light in the Church’s bosom. That same Church today still nourishes us for the life of the spirit, and by means of its Tradition transmits to us fundamental attitudes which find their first written motivation in Scripture.

It is particularly necessary to stress the need for true fidelity to the Word in the present context. This has been expressed by various students in varying ways and forms, often in opposition to one another, and it is fidelity which inspires all the Church’s listening to the Word. It’s final end is the person of the Lord who died and rose again, the giver of the Spirit, and the Father whom he manifested to us. Christ is the first “exegesis” of the Father; he is his “Word”, the one who manifests him. All other words on God and Christ are based on that prime revelation of the Father.

The Word — Verbum — was manifested historically in the flesh, and consequently in the assumption of the human language. Its words, those of the first witnesses and servants of the word, whom the Spirit moved to give authentic expression to the mystery of his appearance among men, will therefore always remain the fundamental norm for everything that will be said about Christ down to the end of time. The Incarnation of the Word, its lowering of itself by assuming a temporal form in a certain historical period and within a certain culture, is a fact which has repercussions for all subsequent cultures, and obliges them to turn continually and loyally to that privileged moment and let it work in them as the indispensable formative principle. But fidelity to the incarnate Word demands, by virtue of the dynamics of the Incarnation, that the message shall be made present whole and entire not just to man in general but to man of today, to whom the message is announced now. Christ made himself the contemporary of some men and spoke their language. Fidelity to him demands that such contemporaneity shall go on. This is the Church’s whole task, with its Tradition, the Magisterium and preaching.

Exegetes ought to make a contribution to this task. Fidelity to modern man is demanding and difficult, but it is necessary, if we wish to be thoroughly faithful to the message. That fidelity is not servility or mimicry, but courageous preaching of the Cross and the Resurrection, with trusting certainty that the message has an echo in the heart of modern man also.

L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
19 September 2014, page 8

For subscriptions to the English edition, contact:
Our Sunday Visitor: L'Osservatore Romano